An Interview with Julia Eff
How does neutrois differ from other nonbinary terms like genderqueer or androgynous? With gender-related language so swiftly evolving, what does neutrois mean to you?
Neutrois is sometimes just written as the null symbol, which in math stands for an empty set but looks like a little “NO!” sign, which obviously stands for “STOP WHATEVER BULLSHIT YOU’RE DOING OVER THERE RIGHT NOW, MY MOST RIGHTEOUS DUDE”. So neutrois is the complete absence of gender, not a queering or blending of genders or taking elements of the binary, plus the fun and excitement of constant dysphoria with no cure that makes you want to claw your own face off.
For me, neutrois is just the empty set. It’s being completely outside the concept of genders and not wanting to look at it or think about it and feeling like nothing, but also an alien and a sick bass line and a snowstorm. It’s a lot of wishing we were all just floating brains in jars, or I could equip the whole world with mind-jamming technology so they wouldn’t make any more assumptions about me based on preconceived notions tied to how I look and nobody knew anything about me that I didn’t tell them. Most of my problems are other people and the body I affectionately refer to as my soggy trash-husk. I’m very comfortable with myself as a floating brain creature.
Your book touches on feeling something was “off” about you growing up. How did you arrive at the label of ‘neutrois’ for yourself and the way you feel?
I don’t know when I figured out my Overall Bad Feelings had gone from “you are crazy and cannot fix yourself” to “you are not the letter it says on your drivers license”, but it was a long ways coming. I always struggled with how I looked not matching how I saw me in my head, not because I was particularly ugly or anything but because everything I did just felt wrong in every direction no matter where I tried, so there was a lot of grasping at straws when I was younger and now I look back on everything prior to like, age 23 with a mixture of shame and sadness. I guess I sort of figured it out for myself after another average garden-variety Julia moment of explaining to somebody that life would have been better if I’d just been born Twiggy Ramirez, and finally just ended up doing a lot of googling. There wasn’t the sheer level of gender discourse on the internet back in 2011 that there is now so it was a pretty hard search and it was a goddamn miracle when I found something. I’m so strong in every aspect of my me-ness that it was not a pleasant thing to have to suffer through cuz that meant not knowing, y’know?.
In 2011, genderqueer/genderfluid and androgyny were emphasized as not having to include dysphoria, and being a mix of genders instead of being separated from the concept entirely so those didn’t fit me. And even when I found the term neutrois, it wasn’t included in the umbrella of “true” transness because there’s no roadmap for a genderfree transition, so Every Thug unfortunately has some pretty weird “I’M TRANS BUT NOT!!!!!!” shit going on in it and now I want to claw my face off when I listen to myself talk, which is I guess an improvement overall since I’m such a cringe factory. There’s an AFI lyric, “we’re the empty set, just floating through and wrapped in skin”, which is equally cringey but super awesome, and I scratched it into all my notebooks when I was younger because it meant so much to me so when I finally found a word that represents “the empty set” as the way to explain myself made me feel so safe in myself, and a lot better than “well…idk…I feel like a girl who’s pretending to be a boy who’s dressed as a girl who dressed as a boy…ok but do u kno what Twiggy Ramirez looks like??”
Over the years I’ve come to use genderfree, gendermagical, genderweird, and genderwizard to describe myself too. Like yeah bruh, I’m a level 96 gender mage with +40 bandaid powers and massive anxiety, the fuck is you?
You also mention some people in your life being less than accepting of who you were at the time. Has Every Thug Is A Lady done anything to change the gender views of anyone in your life that may not have been so accepting before?
I don’t think so. I cut a lot of people out of my life before, during, and after writing the zine and haven’t felt the need to really go back and check on people that were known assholes five years ago, y’know? A lot of people I mention in the zine for being dismissive transphobic shitcanoes were already long gone by the time I made the first copies for exactly that reason. I have a hard enough time living with myself some days, I don’t need that kind of nonsense in my life.
But what the zine has done is make it easier for new people to be welcomed into my weird little world. If anybody has any questions, I can direct them to the book or its follow-up zine Whatstheirname. I wrote it originally as a way to get my friends and people around me up to speed on the situation without having to talk about it all the time, so it’s actually served that purpose really well.
You wrote Every Thug Is A Lady five years ago. That’s a long time. How do you relate to it now as an artist and as a person five years down the road?
I didn’t expect it to take off the way it did. The first run was like, 30 copies, just for friends. So as an artist, it’s surreal to be thinking of how many thousands of people have read this now and still be talking about it five years later. Pioneers picked it up as a book because I threatened to take it out of print cuz I was really just sick of looking at it–it was in the right place at the right time and became this force of nature on me, so it’s weird as an artist to have that be the thing that people ask me about all the time when it’s not the thing I’m the most proud of at all, because I’m my own worst critic and there’s things I’d go back and change in a heartbeat but I won’t because it’s a time capsule of who I was and where I was artistically at a point in time. It bums me out when my more recent stuff gets overlooked in favor of the thing that I’m like OH GOD WHY I COULD HAVE SPACED MY LINES SO MUCH BETTER THAT DOODLE IS STUPID OH GOD I HATE IT about, but it’s really cool to still be getting letters from people saying this helped them somehow, or they saw it and it resonated so perfectly with them that they went out and made their own zine too.
As a person, I’ve grown and changed so much in the last five years that I look back at 2011-me and go “damn kid, you were a hot mess, but ya got a lot of heart”. I’m grateful to myself, though, cuz this was the foot in the door to the zine community again and now I’m involved and go to events and have met so many cool friends and inspiring artists from it. I hate it sometimes, but it’s put me in a spot where I can do the things I’ve dreamed of doing since I started doing zines in 2005. I’m happy I made it but like all the other things I made when I was just a couple years out of high school, I want to bury it in a deep hole and never see it again cuz the perfectionist art-shaming asshole side of me is so real.
Along similar lines, what have you been up to since ETIAL came out? What are you working on these days?
EVERYTHING. At the moment I’m:
• compiling a Marilyn Manson fanzine called The Devil In My Lunchbox.
• working on a bunch of stuff that revolves around Myspace, shitty bands, fan culture, and archiving the internet.
• trying to properly assemble my zine collection into something worthy of being called a public archive, but that’s probably gonna come more after I move into this house I’m buying and it’s got space to be organized instead of just crammed into some paper cases in the corner of our living room.
• following my lifelong dream of becoming basically a record producer for zines, helping cool people with cool ideas but a lack of technical zinemaking experience make shit. So I’m collaborating with a few friends at the moment to help them get their first (or second) zines out. This winter I did the layouts and collage work for my friend California Rachel’s six-foot-long zine about Indiana Jones, Truly The Shittiest Archaeologist Ever, and we’re working on her second one right now, which is sadly not about Indiana Jones but still really good.
• Last year I did a series of mini zines about growing up in a small shitty farm town, and overall I’m working to get more back into the satire-with-a-message stuff I was doing when I first started doing zines, but right now I’m focusing on the music end of things cuz those are the feelings I’m having at the moment. This summer I’m doing a reading at Plan-It X Fest in Indiana (which fulfills my lifelong dream of doing zine things in a music festival context, so even if it’s not Warped Tour [and lbr it’s way better than Warped Tour] IT’LL DO) and I’m hoping to put together some readings and zine-y events in Detroit real soon!
Where is the best place readers can find all of your work?
If you want to read all my things, my webstore (crapandemic.storenvy.com) is the best bet. If you just want to keep abreast of my hollering, I have a tumblr (crapandemic.tumblr.com) and a twitter (twitter.com/julia_eff), but people follow that a lot expecting insightful zine things and then unfollow me when they realize I have no idea what I’m doing and I’m literally just a bag of anxious raccoons that just wants to make high-pitched wailing noises about emo bands and have a good time.
To read an excerpt from Every Thug Is A Lady, check out Please Stop Trying, You’re Obviously Never Gonna Understand It…
Julia Eff is the author ofEvery Thug Is A Lady: Adventures Without Gender. Julia’s latest zine is called Brothers and Sisters, I am an Atomic Bomb.
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